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Brittle vs. non-brittle pastures

Map of brittle vs. nonbrittle environmentsOne of the most fascinating points in Small-Scale Livestock Farming was the distinction between brittle and nonbrittle environments.  The term was coined by Allan Savory to explain why rainforests (the extreme of non-brittle environments) respond differently to grazing than deserts (the extreme of brittle environments).  Most locations are partway between the two extremes, and understanding where your farm lies on the scale can help you make management decisions.

Brittle environments generally don't have much precipitation, and what rain does fall is often concentrated at one season of the year.  Wooden fence posts (and other plant matter left on the ground) tend to rot slowly by weathering and oxidation from the top down in these areas, and there's little leaching to suck minerals out of the soil.  Bunch grasses are common, with lots of space between each plant, and if you overgraze, you tend to see more exposed soil that will erode away.  If you undergraze pastures, you end up with more bare ground between plants, while if you use high-impact grazing properly, plant spacing will tighten up.  When left alone, brittle pastures tend to lose species and only slowly (if ever) turn into forest.

Nonbrittle environments are just the opposite.  Places like our southwest Virginia farm get lots of rain spread throughout the year, so wooden fence posts rot quickly via biological decay starting at the soil line, and we lose a lot of minerals from our soil by leaching.  Grasses in nonbrittle environments tend to form a solid sod, and if you overgraze, the spacing just gets tighter.  If left alone, pastures quickly grow up in briars, then in trees, and eventually close up into forest.

Mob grazingThe map at the top of this post shows that most of the east is nonbrittle and most of the west (except for the Pacific Northwest) is brittle.  Interestingly, most mob grazing experts (like Greg Judy) are located in brittle environments, and even Joel Salatin (in northern Virginia) explained in Folks, This Ain't Normal that his valley microclimate veers toward brittle.  On the other hand, Bill Murphy, who wrote about Voisin-style grazing, farmed in the nonbrittle east. 

I'd be tempted to say that the big divide between Voisin and mob grazing is due to the brittleness of the environment, but Matron of Husbandry illustrates that mob grazing can work quite well on the rainy side of Washington state.  I'd love some more data points from rotational grazers --- are you brittle or nonbrittle and what kind of rotation works for you?

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